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The Road Back to Preterism

A Brief History of Eschatology and the Church

By

Kurt Simmons

In this article we briefly explore the history of eschatological interpretation in the church, its origin,
departure, and return to Preterism.

Preterist Beginnings: Christ and the Apostles

Any discussion of eschatology’s history in the church should begin with Jesus and the apostles, for
they are the fount whence our instruction flows. And here there can be no dispute: Jesus and the
apostles taught the immanence of the eschaton, and looked ahead to the same events to which we now
look back. Jesus’ very ministry began with the clarion call that the eschatological kingdom long
foretold by the prophets was “at hand.”

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the
kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent
ye and believe the gospel.” (Mk. 1:14, 15)

The term translated “at hand” is from the Greek eggidzo and means to approach or draw nigh unto. It
is used both spatially, as in approaching unto a city or place (Mk. 11:1; Lk. 18:40; Acts 9:3), and
temporally, as near in time. When used temporally, it conveys the idea of that which must “shortly
come to pass.” (Rev. 1:1; cf. 1:3; 22:10) Thus, on the night he was betrayed, the third time having
found his disciples sleeping, Jesus said, “Sleep on now and take your rest; behold, the hour is at hand
(eggiken), and the son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; behold he is
at hand (eggiken) that doth betray me.” (Matt. 26:45, 46)

Jesus fixed the coming of the eschatological kingdom within the span of the apostles’ lives when he
stated “Verily I say to you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death,
till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” (Mk. 9:1) The kingdom’s coming in
“power” spoke to the judgments that would attend Christ’s coronation and kingdom. (Cf. Rev. 5:1-
11:15) During his ministry, the Lord alluded to the nearness of these judgments, saying, “But if I with
the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” (Lk. 11:20; cf.
10:9, 11) The coming of the kingdom was contemporaneous with the second coming of Christ.
(Matt. 16:26, 27; II Tim. 4:1) Jesus expressly stated his coming would occur before the apostles had
evangelized all of Israel (Matt. 10:23; cf. Jno. 21:22); the Sanhedrin would see Jesus coming in clouds
of heaven in judgment upon the Jewish nation (Matt. 26:64; Mk. 14:62), within that very generation.
(Matt. 23:36, 39; 24:30, 34)

Moving from the gospels to the epistles, we find the disciples were unanimous in holding to the
imminence of Christ’s coming and kingdom. Paul said the “time is short” (I Cor. 7:29); the night of
sin and death was “far spent;” the eschatological day “was at hand.” (Rom. 13:11, 12) God would
“finish the work and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the
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earth.” (Rom. 9:28) He would bruise Satan under their feet “shortly.” (Rom. 16:20) The Hebrew
writer urged his readers to exhort one another as they saw the eschatological day approaching, for it
was a “very little while” (Grk. micron hoson, hoson) and he that was to come would come and not
delay. (Heb. 10:37) James said the coming of the Lord “draweth nigh” (Grk. eggiken), it was at the
very the door. (Jam. 5:8, 9) Peter said the end of all things was “at hand” (I Pet. 4:7); John, that it was
the “last hour.” (I Jno. 2:18) Jesus told the churches of Asia “behold, I come quickly;” the time is “at
hand.” (Rev. 22:10, 12, 20; cf. 1:1, 3)

There can be no successful contradiction: Jesus and the apostles taught the immanence of the eschaton
in relation to those that where then alive.

Kingdom’s Nature Misunderstood

If the timing of the eschatological kingdom was not left in doubt, its nature was clothed in ambiguity.
In Jesus’ day, the expectation was that the kingdom announced by the prophets was essentially
political; the Messiah would be a national liberator who would restore the Davidic throne, deliver
Israel from Roman servitude, and propel the nation to world dominance.

The danger inherent in such teaching is apparent, and Jesus was always careful that his instruction
about the kingdom not open him to charges of sedition. Jesus usually did not speak directly to the
nature of the kingdom, but only indirectly, through parables. (Matt. 13:10, 11; Mk. 4:33, 34)
Although this protected him from being accused of teaching sedition against Rome, the cryptic nature
of his teaching often left details of the kingdom and eschaton unclear in the mind of his disciples.
Thus, at the climax of his ministry, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem reverberated with
anticipation of his obtaining the government over Israel: Large crowds followed him from Jericho
(Matt. 20:29-21:1); the whole city of Jerusalem was moved at his arrival (Matt. 21:10); the crowds
cried “Hosanna…blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
(Mk. 11:10) The mother of Zebedee’s children petitioned the Lord that her sons might occupy the
chief places in his kingdom. (Matt. 20:20) A few days later at the Passover, we learn that the
disciples have swords, as if they expect to be called upon to forcibly advance Jesus’ claim to the
nation’s head. (Lk. 22:38) When Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples ask whether he would then
restore the kingdom to Israel. (Acts 1:7)

To a certain extent, the confusion extant during Jesus’ earthly ministry continued during the apostles’
lives. For example, John indicates that, because Jesus said he would live until his return, the saying
went abroad that John would not die, but would be wondrously “raptured” to ethereal realms above at
Christ’s coming. (Jno. 21:19, 20; cf. Matt. 16:26, 27) Paul found it necessary to reiterate his instruction
to the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians thought the crisis marked by the “man of sin” was
immediately upon them; Paul reminded them that not until “he would lets” (Claudius) was taken out of
the way would Nero ascend the throne and eschatological harvest (gathering by martyrdom) break out.
(II Thess. 1-11; cf. Rev. 14:12-16) All this to say that details of the eschaton were not fully understood
from the very start, even amongst those that accompanied Jesus.

The confusion that obtained during the lives of Christ and the apostles was compounded after their
deaths. The almost universal martyrdom of disciples under Nero and the Jews left with church with
few capable of correctly expounding the eschatology of the kingdom and coming of Christ. The
picture that emerges in the centuries following the apostolic age is one of great confusion: There is a
great diversity of opinion concerning the nature of the eschaton among the patristic writers; their
writings betray a fundamental lack of comprehension; they are as men groping in darkness after
something they cannot see. Indeed, men are not even certain which books are to be received as

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canonical and which are not. Irenaeus thought there would be three levels of resurrection
corresponding to individual worthiness;[1] Tertullian thought there would be a millennial reign of Christ
on earth”;[2] Lactantius thought the earth would be wondrously regenerated during the millennium, and
all creatures restored to their primal state in the garden.[3] Notwithstanding these rather obvious errors,
strands of Christ’s and the apostles’ original Preterism were either preserved or recovered, and may be
clearly identified in the warp and woof of early church eschatology. Here are a few examples:

Patristic Writers

The Last Days

Eusebius states that the “last days” (translated “end of the days” in the LXX – Gen. 49:1) referred to
the destruction of the Jewish state and polity:

“For we must understand by ‘the end of the days’ the end of national existence of the Jews. What,
then, did he say they must look for? The cessation of the rule of Judah, the destruction of their
whole race, the failing and ceasing of their governors, and the abolition of the dominant kingly
position of the tribe of Judah, and the rule and kingdom of Christ, not over Israel but over all
nations, according to the word, ‘This is the expectation of the nations.’” [4]

“This Generation” and the Days of Vengeance

In his Olivet discourse, Jesus spoke of his second coming and of the “days of vengeance” upon the
Jewish nation in which all that had been written would be fulfilled. (Lk. 21:22) Jesus indicated this
would occur within his own generation. (Matt. 24:34; Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:31) Modern day “prophecy
experts” claim that this is a reference to our own or some future day, but the early church thought
otherwise. St. John Chrysostom of Antioch (A.D. 375) refers to this, indicating its fulfillment in that
generation:

“Was their house left desolate? Did all the vengeance come upon that generation? It is quite
plain that it was so, and no man gainsays it.” [5]

Abomination of Desolation

Christ’s Olivet discourse warns believers to flee Judea and Jerusalem when they saw the “abomination
of desolation,” which Luke equates with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. (Lk. 21:20) Origen
indicates this was fulfilled in the war with Rome begun under Nero and concluded under Vespasian
and Titus:

But let this Jew of Celsus, who does not believe that He foreknew all that happened to Him,
consider how, while Jerusalem was still standing, and the whole Jewish worship celebrated in it,
Jesus foretold what would befall it from the hand of the Romans. For they will not maintain that the
acquaintances and pupils of Jesus Himself handed down His teaching contained in the Gospels
without committing it to writing, and left His disciples without the memoirs of Jesus contained in
their works. Now in these it is recorded, that ‘when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed about with
armies, then shall ye know that the desolation thereof is nigh.’ But at that time there were no
armies around Jerusalem, encompassing and enclosing and besieging it; for the siege began in the
reign of Nero, and lasted till the government of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on
account, as Josephus says, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, but in
reality, as the truth makes clear, on account of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” [6]

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Elijah and the Beast

The Old Testament prophets announced three figures or persons that would mark the time of the
eschatological kingdom and end: The Messiah, the beast/little-horn of Daniel seven, and the “Elijah”
foretold by Malachi. (Mal. 3:1, 2; 4:5, 6; cf. Isa. 40:3-5) We know the identity of the Messiah, and
Jesus indicated that Malachi’s Elijah was fulfilled in John the Baptist. (Matt. 11:7-15) Thus, the only
remaining personage to be identified is the antichrist or beast. The early church believed that Nero
personified the beast. Thus, the second coming should have occurred within the immediate reaches of
the eschatological figures of John and Nero. Primitive Christians understood this, but misunderstood
the nature of Christ’s second advent. Therefore, when John and Nero passed from history and the
world did not end in the manner primitive believers supposed it should, they were faced with the
problem why Christ failed to return when prophesied. The solution was that Elijah and Nero would
appear a second time on the world stage preceding the end! This is much like modern
dispensationalists who, faced with Rome and the Jerusalem temple having passed from history, believe
that there will be a “revived” Rome, a third temple with a revived priesthood and Sanhedrin, together
with another Elijah.[7] Reflecting the belief in a second Elijah and reappearance of Nero, Commodianus
(A.D. 240), bishop of North-Africa wrote thus:

“Hear ye how the prophet foretold concerning him [the antichrist]. I have said nothing elaborately,
but negligently. Then, doubtless, the world shall be finished when he shall appear. He himself shall
divide the globe into three ruling powers, when, moreover, Nero shall be up from hell, Elias shall
first come to seal the beloved ones.” [8]

Nero’s rising up from hell refers to Revelation 11:7 and 17:8, concerning the beast that would rise
from the bottomless pit. Thus, Commodianus believed it was necessary that both Nero and Elijah
reappear so the world could end in the manner he supposed. Sulpicius Severus (A.D. 360-420) makes
similar comments:

In the meanwhile Nero, now hateful even to himself from a consciousness of his crimes, disappears
from among men, leaving it uncertain whether or not he had laid violent hands upon himself:
certainly his body was never found. It was accordingly believed that, even if he did put an end to
himself with a sword, his wound was cured, and his life preserved, according to that which was
written regarding him,-"And his mortal wound was healed," -to be sent forth again near the end
[9]
of the world, in order that he may practice the mystery of iniquity.

Although Sulpicius erroneously concludes that Nero’s life was somehow wondrously preserved and
will appear again, he correctly identified Nero with the “beast” and “man of sin.” (Cf. Rev. 13:3; II
Thess. 2:7)

Man of Sin

One of the chief eschatological passages of the New Testament is II Thess. 2, which speaks of the
“man of sin” whom the Lord would consume at his coming. (II Thess. 2:3, 8) Tradition among
primitive Christians identified St. Paul’s “man of sin” with St. John’s “antichrist” and Revelation’s
“beast,” many holding that these were references to Nero. In his fourth homily on II Thessalonians, St.
Chrysostom (A.D. 347 to 407) states,

"For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work." He speaks here of Nero... But he did not also
wish to point him out plainly: and this not from cowardice, but instructing us not to bring upon
[10]
ourselves unnecessary enmities, when there is nothing to call for it.”

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He who lets

II Thess. indicates that the man of sin could not come to power until “he who lets” and “what
withholdeth” was taken out of the way. (II Thess. 2:6, 7) This has long been recognized as referring
to Claudius Caesar and the restraining power of the religio licita –religions whose practice was
protected by Roman law. Tertullian (A.D. 145-220) thought Rome was the restraining power alluded
to by St. Paul, saying “What obstacle is there but the Roman state.”[11] This is echoed by several
patristic writers. Victorinus, in his commentary on the Apocalypse, states:

“And after many plagues completed in the world, in the end he says that a beast ascended from the
abyss…that is, of the Romans. Moreover that he was in the kingdom of the Romans, and that he
was among the Caesars. The Apostle Paul also bears witness, for he says to the Thessalonians: Let
him who now restraineth restrain, until he be taken out of the way; and then shall appear the
Wicked One, even he whose coming is after the working of Satan, with signs an lying wonders.’
And that they might know that he should come who then was the prince, he adds: ‘He already
endeavours after the secret of mischief’ – that is, the mischief which he is about to do he strives to
do secretly; but he is not raised up by his own power, nor by that of his father, but by command of
[12]
God.”

Victorinus here connects the “beast” from the abyss with the Roman empire and the “Wicked One”
with the one who was prince when Paul wrote (Nero), and would follow his father (Claudius) to the
throne.[13]

Augustine (A.D. 354-430) is even more explicit:

“Some think that these words refer to the Roman empire, and that the apostle Paul did not wish to
write more explicitly, lest he should incur a charge of calumny against the Roman empire, in
wishing ill to it when men hoped that it was to be everlasting. So in the words: ‘For the secret
power of lawlessness is already at work’ he referred to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be
[14]
as those of Antichrist.”

Origen’s Astonishing Statements

Dispensationalists to the contrary notwithstanding, Origen states that Daniel’s seventy weeks were
fulfilled in the coming of Christ;[15] But what is more astonishing by far, Origen indicates that the
eschatological “coming” of the Lord with “fire” is to be understood figuratively of the destruction of
Jerusalem, as maintained by Preterists:

"And if the voices of the prophets say that God "comes down," who has said "Do I not fill
heaven and earth? saith the Lord," the term is used in a figurative sense For God "comes
down" from His own height and greatness when He arranges the affairs of men, and
especially those of the wicked...So if God is said anywhere in the holy Scriptures to "come
down," it is understood as spoken in conformity with the usage which so employs the
word...But as it is in mockery that Celsus says we speak of "God coming down like a torturer
bearing fire," and thus compels us unseasonably to investigate the words of deeper
meaning, we shall make a few remarks...The divine word says that our God is a "consuming
fire," and that "He draws rivers of fire before him"...But when He is said to be a "consuming
fire," we inquire what are the things which are appropriate to be consumed by God? And
we assert that they are wickedness and the works which result from it, and which, being
figuratively called "wood, hay, and stubble," God consumes as a fire. The wicked man,
accordingly, is said to build up on the previously-laid foundation of reason, "wood, hay, and
stubble." If, then, any one can show that these words were differently understood by the
writer, and can prove that the wicked man literally builds up "wood, or hay, or stubble," it is
evident that the fire must be understood to be material, and an object of sense. But if, on

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the contrary, the works of the wicked man are spoken of figuratively under the names of
"wood, or hay, or stubble," why does it not at once occur (to inquire) in what sense the word
"fire" is to be taken?...for (the Scripture says) “The fire will try each man’s work of what sort
it is." [16]

"And if the voices of the prophets say that God "comes down," who has said "Do I not fill heaven
and earth? saith the Lord," the term is used in a figurative sense For God "comes down" from His
own height and greatness when He arranges the affairs of men, and especially those of the
wicked...So if God is said anywhere in the holy Scriptures to "come down," it is understood as
spoken in conformity with the usage which so employs the word...But as it is in mockery that
Celsus says we speak of "God coming down like a torturer bearing fire," and thus compels us
unseasonably to investigate the words of deeper meaning, we shall make a few remarks...The divine
word says that our God is a "consuming fire," and that "He draws rivers of fire before him"...But
when He is said to be a "consuming fire," we inquire what are the things which are appropriate to be
consumed by God? And we assert that they are wickedness and the works which result from it, and
which, being figuratively called "wood, hay, and stubble," God consumes as a fire. The wicked
man, accordingly, is said to build up on the previously-laid foundation of reason, "wood, hay, and
stubble." If, then, any one can show that these words were differently understood by the writer, and
can prove that the wicked man literally builds up "wood, or hay, or stubble," it is evident that the
fire must be understood to be material, and an object of sense. But if, on the contrary, the works of
the wicked man are spoken of figuratively under the names of "wood, or hay, or stubble," why does
it not at once occur (to inquire) in what sense the word "fire" is to be taken?...for (the Scripture
says) “The fire will try each man’s work of what sort it is." [16]

A few chapters later, Origen states:

We do not deny, then, that the purificatory fire and the destruction of the world took place in order
that evil might be swept away, and all things be renewed; for we assert that we have learned these
things from the sacred books of the prophets…And anyone who likes may convict this statement of
falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single
generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands. For forty and two years, I
think after the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction of Jerusalem take place.” [17]

“All things renewed” refers to Rev. 21:5, and shows Origen understood that Revelation spoke to the
destruction of Jerusalem and that we are living in the new heavens and earth.

Space prevents more examples. None of the writers above were Preterists; one and all still looked for
Christ to come a second time. Yet, their writings evidence definite Preterist strains and influences.
They are like men being pulled in two directions: backward to the events of the first century and
forward to the purported end of the cosmos. Unable to reconcile their conflicting eschatologies, they
synthesized futurism and preterism, inventing fantastic notions about Nero and Elijah returning a
second time. How can this be accounted for? We submit that the original Preterism of Christ and the
apostles was never fully lost, but was handed down by tradition and preserved by diligent study of the
scriptures, and continued to manifest itself, even when the larger truths about Christ’s second coming
were totally lost or obscured.

The Departure From Preterism

Chiliasm

(A.D. 175 – A.D. 400)

Eschatology had been the especial concern of first century Christians. The gospels and nearly every
epistle assume Christ’s imminent return. “Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of
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the Lord draweth nigh.” (Jm. 5:8) But in the centuries following A.D. 70, the church’s attention
turned from eschatology to apologetics. Great effort was made to show that every detail of Christ’s
life, death, and resurrection was prophesied in the psalms, the prophets, and the law. The study of
eschatology waned as men applied their efforts to more basic doctrines of redemption. Examples
may be seen in the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian who wrote “apologies,”
defending the faith and proving that Jesus was Christ. This is as it should be. The doctrines of faith
and redemption are the most important and it was natural and desirable that men employed their efforts
to establish the fundamentals of the new faith. However, the result was that men’s understanding of
eschatology and comprehension of the prophetic method and language grew weak and attenuated.
“Chiliasm” grew up (from “chilia,” Greek for “a thousand”), which placed a literal construction upon
the language of the prophets, asserting that the earth would be wondrously regenerated and Christ reign
for a thousand years. Lactantius (A.D. 260-330) could thus write:

But He, when He shall have destroyed unrighteousness, and executed His great judgment, and shall
have recalled to life the righteous, who have lived from the beginning, will be engaged among men
a thousand years, and will rule them with most just command...Then they who shall be alive in their
bodies shall not die, but during those thousand years shall produce an infinite multitude, and their
offspring shall be holy, and beloved by God; but they who shall be raised from the dead shall
preside over the living as judges...About the same time also the prince of the devils, who is the
contriver of all evils, shall be bound with chains, and shall be imprisoned during the thousand years
of the heavenly rule in which righteousness shall reign in the world, so that he may contrive no evil
against the people of God...Throughout this time Beasts shall not be nourished by blood, nor birds
by prey; but all things shall be peaceful and tranquil. Lions and calves shall stand together at the
manger, the wolf shall not carry off the sheep, the hound shall not hunt for prey; hawks and eagles
[18]
shall not injure; the infant shall play with serpents.

This sort of approach betrays the most fundamental misunderstanding of the usus loquendi (Lat.
“manner of speaking”) of the prophets. It never occurs to the writer that the prophets spoke
figuratively and poetically of the things they described. Chiliasm was quickly repudiated by the
thinking church and later condemned as heretical by the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions.[19]
However, in England, where these confessions had no authority, chiliasm was revived by Mede, Sir
Isaac Newton, and Whiston.[20] Later, it was picked up by Darby and Scofield and woven into the
fabric of modern day Dispensational Premillennialism, where it has been secretly promoted and served
with advantage Jewish Zionists who have bent Anglo-American foreign policy toward Israel and the
Middle East to their purpose.

Allegorical Method

(A.D. 400 - A.D. 1200)

Another development was the rise of the spiritualizing method of Alexandria. After the destruction of
Jerusalem, Antioch of Syria became the heart of the Christian faith. As we have seen, traces of the
contemporary-historical method show themselves in writers during this period. However, in the third
century, Alexandria rose to predominance as the intellectual center of Christianity through the genius
of Clement and Origen. Alexandria had been associated with an allegorical interpretation of scripture
since the days of Philo Judaeus (20 B.C. - A.D. 50). According to this method, the historical narratives
of scripture are abstracted from real life and turned into allegories of morals and doctrine. Thus,
Joseph’s brethren stripping him of his coat, casting him into a pit, and selling him into Egypt becomes
a free-ranging allegory about knowledge vs. ignorance:

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“Also, in the case of Joseph: the brothers having envied this young man, who by his knowledge was
possessed of uncommon foresight, stripped off the coat of many colours, and took and threw him
into a pit…Otherwise interpreted, the coat of many colours is lust, which takes its way into a
yawning pit.” And if one open up or hew out a pit,” it is said, “and do not cover it, and there fall in
there a calf or ass, the owner of the pit shall pay the price in money, and give it to his neighbour;
and the dead body shall be his.” [21] Here add that prophecy: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass
his master’s crib: but Israel hath not understood Me.” [22] In order, then, that none of those, who
have fallen in with the knowledge taught by thee, may become incapable of holding the truth, and
disobey and fall away, it is said, Be thou sure in treatment of the word, and shut up the living spring
in the depth from those who approach irrationally, but reach drink to those that thirst for truth…This
then is the type of “the law and the prophets which were until John.” [23]

Applied to Revelation, the spiritualizing method meant that the contemporary-historical parameters of
the book were lost or ignored and it was treated allegorically instead. The allegorical method of
Alexandria exerted great influence upon leading thinkers in following centuries. The great
personalities of the beginning of the medieval period, Eusebius, Jerome, Tyconius, and Augustine,
understood apocalyptic symbolism in terms of the struggle between good and evil in every age, rather
than specific events in history or the world’s end.

Augustine, for example, saw Revelation in terms of a spiritual allegory telling the story of redemption.
Although the Antichrist and Elijah were literal characters who would appear in history, for Augustine
they are merely actors upon a larger allegorical stage in which two cities co-exist: One group, citizens
of Babylon, living in sin and unbelief, the other, citizens of the City of God, sojourning here in faith.
On a superficial level, Augustine’s interpretation and method has a certain appeal: There are indeed
two classes of men dwelling upon earth; those that are saved and those that are lost. Identifying the
saved and lost with the two cities portrayed in Revelation loosely approximates the truth. However,
upon closer examination this method is shown to be completely inadequate: If Babylon is a symbol for
the lost and the City of God for the saved, what do the other cities in Revelation symbolize and who
are their inhabitants? (Rev. 16:19) Moreover, how is it that the beast and kings of the earth combine
together to desolate the great city and burn her with fire? (Rev. 17:16, 17) If Babylon is the symbolic
city of unbelievers, where would these dwell after they have destroyed their supposed home? And
what about the all the language of Christ’s imminent coming so prominent in the letters to the seven
churches and other passages in Revelation? (Rev. 1:1, 32:5, 16, 25; 3:3, 10; 16:15; 22:7, 10, 12, 20) If
these are to have any meaning, they must be understood in terms of the contemporary-historical
circumstances of the original recipients, not an allegorical treatment of the text.

Augustine’s method also comes short in terms of Revelation’s millennia. For Augustine, the father of
modern-day Post-millennialism (though Amillennialists claim him too), the binding of the dragon and
reign of the saints for a thousand years spoke to conversion and regeneration. Connecting Christ’s
parabolic binding of the strong man (Matt. 12:29) with Revelation's millennia, Augustine thought Rev.
20:1-7 symbolized Christ binding the devil, permitting men to reign with him by knowledge of the
gospel and remission of sins:

“Now this binding of the devil took place not only at the time when the church began to
spread beyond the land of Judaea into one nation after another, but it is taking place even now
and will continue to the end of the age, when he is to be loosed, because even now men are
being converted from the unbelief in which he held them into faith, and beyond doubt men
will go on being converted to the end of the age. And that strong one is bound in every
instance for any man who is taken from him, being, as it were, a piece of his goods; and the
pit in which he is shut up is not exhausted with the death of those who were alive when he
was first shut up, but others have been born and replace them, and this goes on to the end of
the age.” [24]

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The similarity between the free-ranging allegorizing of Clement and Augustine’s explanation of the
first resurrection comes through in this passage fairly well. Like Clement who has Joseph’s being cast
into a pit represent the battle between knowledge vs. ignorance, for Augustine, the binding of the
dragon represents faith vs. unbelief. The devil blinded men through sin and ignorance, but knowledge
of the gospel binds the devil, setting men free. Overlooking the historical context Revelation spoke to,
Augustine wanders through the pages of scripture looking for an explanation of John’s imagery and
ends up treating it as a type of allegory instead, much as he does the great city, Babylon. The text is
anchored to no specific historical referent, but floats about through the centuries, mystifying readers
who are stymied as much by Augustine’s explanation as they are the symbolism of the passage.

The dragon (Rome, Leviathan, the world civil power) was symbolically cast into the bottomless pit
(hades, tartarus) upon receiving a mortal wound to its head in the collapse of persecution that arose
over Stephen, portrayed in Revelation twelve. (Rev. 12:13-17; cf. Acts 9:31; Rev. 13:3, 14) It was
bound there during the reign of Claudius who maintained a policy affording the church the protection
of law, even to the point of banishing the Jews from Rome for rioting against Christians. (Acts 18:2)
However, upon the ascent of Nero, the restraining power of the religio licita was taken away, and the
dragon and beast were loosed to persecute anew the church. (Rev. 17:8; 20:7-10) Thus, the symbolic
thousand-year binding of the dragon begins and ends before the reign of the martyrs.

John describes martyrs beheaded for not receiving the mark of the beast as living and reigning with
Christ in what is termed the “first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:4, 6) The first resurrection therefore has to
do with the souls of the departed dead in paradise, not the regeneration of those presently living. (Cf.
Matt. 22:31, 32; Lk. 16:19-31; 23:43) The martyrs die under Nero and the persecuting power of the
empire (the beast). They reign with Christ in hades paradise “a thousand years” until the general
resurrection. (Rev. 20:5) The common symbol of a thousand years does not point to a single
millennium, but to the timeless nature of the hadean realm. In the material realm, time is marked by
the movement of bodies through space. But the spiritual realm exists apart from the time-space
“continuum”; time as we know and experience it does not exist there at all. Hence, one day is with the
Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day. (Ps. 90:4; II Pet. 3:8) The longest any man
lived on earth was Methuselah, who lived 969 years. (Gen. 5:27) The thousand years thus exceeds the
span of all earthly life. Therefore, living and reigning with Christ a thousand years points to the fact
that the souls of the martyrs have left earthly existence and entered the spiritual realm above. It is
more than a little significant that Greco-Roman tradition had it that the dead dwelt in hades a thousand
years before attaining new lives. [25] The symbol of a thousand years would therefore have been
uniquely discernable to the Greek and Latin speaking disciples of the first century, who could thus face
the prospect of martyrdom with assurance God had prepared a place of rest for them in paradise
pending the general resurrection. (Cf. Rev. 6:9-11; 14:9-13) [26]

Apocalyptic

(A.D. 1200 – A.D. 1500)

The allegorical method of Tyconius and Augustine dominated interpretation of Revelation for the next
eight hundred years. The late medieval period saw a marked change in approach to eschatology and
Revelation. Most noteworthy, this period witnessed a proliferation of “new” revelations as unstable
souls predicted and prophesied the coming of Antichrist coupled with variations upon utopian
millennial themes. The historical moorings of Revelation were completely lost to sight; eschatological
interpretation was governed by subjective impression of contemporary events. The leading
apocalyptic writer of this era, whose influence was to be felt for the next three centuries, was Joachim
of Fiore.

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Joachim of Fiore, an abbot of the Cistercian order, wrote three major treaties of an apocalyptic nature,
and more than a dozen lesser writings. He met with many of the important personalities of the day,
including pope Lucius III, pope Innocent II, Richard the Lionhearted, Emperor Henry VI, the Empress
Constance, and Fredrick II. Joachim believed that all the major events of the history of national Israel
were typical and prophetic of events that would overtake the church. For example, Joachim identified
seven major “persecutions” suffered by the Jews[27] and believed on that basis the church would
undergo the same before the world’s end:

“For we should remember that the Hebrew people bore seven special persecution in which without
doubt the seven special tests of Christians are signified. The Apostle testifies to this when he says
that ‘all things happened to them in figure’ (I Cor. 10:11). Just as in the Old Testament, when the
seven tribulations were finished, the Savior who was to redeem the human race came into the world,
so when just as many persecution against the Church have been completed, the punishing Judge of
[28]
this world will make his appearance.”

By this direct “concordance” between the Old and New Testaments, Joachim believed the events of the
past, present, and future were clearly identifiable in the scriptures and that the world’s end could
therefore be pinpointed. Another of Joachim’s beliefs that was foundational to his system was that the
history of the world was made of three status or ages, consisting of forty-two generations each. These
status overlapped; the beginning of one overlapping the end of another. The first answered to the law
and began with Adam; the second answered to the gospel and began under Uzziah; and the third began
under St. Benedict. The third status Joachim believed would succeed and completely displace the
gospel/church age in A.D. 1260 and would fulfill the imagery of Rev. 21 and 22, the new Jerusalem.
Joachim thought the third status was to be marked by the perfection of the church, which would be
organized along monastic lines with two great orders of monks leading disciplined and contemplative
lives (this is why it began with Benedict).

We think that in him who was seen sitting on the white cloud and was like the Son of Man (Rev.
14:14) there is signified some order of just men to whom it is given to imitate the life of the Son of
Man perfectly…Wherefore, just as in him who was like the Son of Man there is to be understood a
future order of perfect men preserving the life of Christ and the apostles, so in the angle who went
forth from the temple in heaven is to be seen an order of hermits imitating the life of the angels. [29]

Joachim’s belief that present and future events were predictable, together with his belief in the
imminence of the coming third status, meant that Revelation and other eschatological scriptures were
to be interpreted in light of contemporary events. Saracens, Moslems, Mongels, Tartars, princes and
popes all became the stuff of eschatological interpretation. The imminence which marked
eschatological expectation also tended to produce a fanatic, lunatic fringe, particularly in the
Franciscan order.

The Franciscan order is named after Francis of Assisi. A fanatic and eccentric who claimed to hear
voices from God and spoke to animals, Francis began his career as an intenerate preacher a few years
after the death of Joachim in 1202. Renouncing all earthly possessions and subjecting himself to a
sever discipline of fasting and self abnegation, Francis roamed the countryside begging and working to
support himself while he preached his particular version of the gospel. He soon attracted followers and
founded three orders of mendicants (Lat. mendicare, “to beg”) whose distinguishing feature was their
belief that a life conformed to Christ required that men live in poverty. On or about the feast of the
Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) in A.D. 1224, after protracted fasting and praying, Francis fell
into a vision in which he “saw” the seraphim. He thereafter purportedly received the “stigmata,” the
five wounds of Christ upon the cross, allegedly witnessing to a life perfectly conformed to the
crucified Christ – a superstitious error derived from St. Paul’s statement in Galatians, saying, he bore
in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Gal. 6:17)

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Given the fanatical nature of its origin and rule, it is not surprising that the Franciscan order soon
became a hotbed of Joachite apocalyptic expectation. Many Franciscans believed that their
commitment to poverty and monasticism identified them as the future order of monks, preserving the
life of Christ and the apostles, which Joachim had written about. It is with this view that in A.D. 1250,
a young friar named Gerardo of Borgo San Donnino issued a work called the Introduction to the
Eternal Gospel, which was an interpretation and summary of Joachim’s three major works. Gerardo’s
Introduction claimed that the third status would arrive in A.D. 1260, signaling the total abrogation of
the church of the second status, including the substitution of Joachim’s writing for the Old and New
Testaments. Gerardo’s work created such a scandal that a papal commission was held at Anagni under
Alexander IV in A.D. 1255, which condemned the Introduction, but not Joachim himself. Gerardo
was imprisoned for life and the minister general of the Franciscans, John of Parma, was forced to step
down from his position.

The blow to Joachitism in the Franciscans was only temporary; Bonaventure, Parma’s successor, was
thoroughly Joachite in orientation and caused the infection to further spread in the order. Bonaventure
synthesized Joachim’s doctrine of three stata with teaching from early patristic writers (viz.,
Hyppolytus) which had it that the world consisted of seven ages and as many millennia. According to
Bonaventure, Joachim’s third status answered to the fabled millennial age of the seventh epoch of
earth’s history:

In the seventh age we know that these things will take place – the rebuilding of the temple, the
restoration of the city, and the granting o peace. Likewise in the coming seventh age there will be a
restoration of divine worship and a rebuilding of the city. Then the prophecy of Ezekiel will be
fulfilled when the city comes down from heaven (Ezek. 40); not indeed that city which is above,
but that city which is below, the Church Militant which will then be conformed to the Church
Triumphant as far as possible in this life. Then will be the building and restoration of the city as it
was in the beginning. Then there will be peace. God alone knows how long that peace will last. [30]

The history of apocalyptic frenzy among the Franciscans reaches unto the latter half of the fifteenth
century. The Great Schism (A.D. 1378-1418) witnessed three popes reigning simultaneously, one
from Avignon, one from Rome, and a third from Pisa. The schism was healed by the Council of
Constance, which deposed the Avignonese and Pisan popes, allowed the Roman pope to resign, and
elected a new pope, Martin V (A.D. 1417-1431). As a necessary condition to reform the church, the
Council declared its supremacy to the pope and established a timetable for future reform councils,
which Martin and his successor preceded to undercut. Thus died hopes for reform of the medieval
church. However, the fact of the schism fueled apocalyptic expectations. Dissident off shoot groups
of Franciscans called “Fratricelli” (Little Brothers) circulated a new generation of private revelations.
The reformation and perfection of the church continued to be a recurring theme; the carnal church was
called the whore of Babylon; the coming perfected church of the third status/seventh age was identified
with the new Jerusalem. More and more the papacy was interpreted as the actual or mystical
antichrist. The drama finally drew to a close when, after nearly three hundred years of spurious claims
of new revelations and irresponsible exegesis of biblical texts, the Franciscan order was reined in
following a period inquisition and executions by papal authorities on the one hand, and determined
resistance and assassinations on the other.

This brief summary does not cover all the movements and interpretive schools of the late medieval
period. Many did not subscribe to the apocalypticism of Joachim and the Franciscans, notably, the
Dominican scholastic, Thomas Acquinas. However, it does represent the dominate trend and literature
of the period. In its failure to see the historical context of Revelation, its interpretation of apocalyptic
material in terms of contemporary events, its characterization of the Catholic church as Babylon, and

11
the pope as antichrist, the latter medieval period anticipated themes of the Reformation, the next stage
in the road back to Preterism.

Continuous Historical

(A.D. 1500-1700)

The method of interpretation that came out of the Reformation is called the “Continuous Historical.”
This approach finds in the imagery of Revelation a continuous, chronologically sequential panorama of
history reaching until the world’s end. The first to use this approach was Nicolas of Lyra (A.D. 1329)
in his Postilla. A Franciscan who rejected the apocalypticism of Joachim and his fellow Franciscans,
Nicolas proffered a continuous-historical interpretation of Revelation beginning in the first century and
reaching to his own time. The continuous-historical method was introduced into the Reformation by
Luther. Luther was much indebted to Nicolas and adopted his approach, but, unlike Nicolas, Luther
unreservedly equated papal Rome with the beast and Babylon the harlot. Other reformers followed
Luther, finding in Revelation’s imagery allusions to papal Rome and the Reformation. The faithful
church was the woman who was hid of God 1,260 days in the wilderness. (Rev. 12:6, 14) Using the
day-for-a-year approach, it was thought the 1,260 days were the number of years from the church’s
apostasy under the popes, until the Reformation. In seeing papal Rome as the beast and harlot, the
Reformers were following themes first advanced by the Franciscan Joachites. The Joachites were also
the first to see allusions to their own time in the 1,260 days of the woman hiding in the wilderness,
predicting that the year A.D. 1260 would bring in the fabled third status.

The continuous-historical method has few modern proponents. Its traditional interpretation equating
the beast and harlot with papal Rome has not withstood serious scrutiny; no reputable scholars
embrace it today. By far the greatest objection to the continuous-historical method is that Revelation is
arranged more in terms of theme than order in time. The recapitulatory nature of Revelation was first
noted in writing by Victorinus:

“We must not regard the order of what is said, because frequently the Holy Spirit, when He has
traversed even to the end of the last times, returns again to the same times, and fills up what He had
before failed to say. Nor must we look for order in the Apocalypse; but we must follow the
[31]
meaning of those things which are prophesied.”

Thus, each vision often retraces the steps of its predecessor, portraying the same period from a
different perspective, but extending progressively further in time and event toward its ultimate climax.
Thus, the day of the Lord or parts thereof are portrayed no fewer than five times. (Rev. 6:12-17; 11:15-
19; 14:19; 16:19-21; 20:11-15) The eschatological war against the saints is also portrayed several
times under different names and symbols: in Rev. 16:16 it is portrayed under the imagery of the battle
of Armageddon; but in Rev. 19:11-21 and 20:7-10 it is described as the battle of Gog and Magog. The
binding of the dragon and beast in Rev. 20:1-3, is first alluded to in 11:7 and 17:8. Indeed, the whole
of chapters 17:1 though 20:11 is a parenthetical recapitulation of events described in chapters 13-16.
Perhaps the most obvious proof that Revelation is thematically arranged is the fact Christ’s coronation
is portrayed in chapters four and five, but his birth and ascension are portrayed in chapter twelve! In
attempting to interpret Revelation in a continuous, chronologically progressive manner, the
continuous-historical method is at hopeless odds with the thematic and recapitulatory structure of the
book.

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Academic Rebirth of Preterism

(1800s)

Preterism experienced a brief rebirth in midst of the Reformation when the Spanish Jesuit Luis De
Alcazar (1554-1613) published his commentary called Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the
Apocalypse. Alcasar proposed that Revelation applied to Christianity’s triumph over Judaism and
pagan Rome. According to Alcasar:

* Revelation chapters 1-11 describe the rejection of the Jews and the
destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
* Chapters 12 - 19 describe the overthrow of Roman paganism (the
great harlot) and the conversion of the empire to the church.
* Chapter 20 describes the persecution and judgment upon the
antichrist, identified as Nero Cæsar (54-68 A.D.).
* Revelation 21 -22 describe the triumph of the new Jerusalem, the
Roman Catholic Church.

In attempting to understand Revelation in terms of the historical


circumstances of it recipients, Alcasar employed the scientific
canons of literary criticism and thus came very close to a correct
understanding of the book. However, in ascribing the final victory to
the Roman Catholic Church, Alcasar struck a sour note at a time
when Europe and the world was committed to breaking ties with
papal Rome. Preterism’s rebirth was thus abortive and would have to
wait almost three hundred years before it received serious attention
again.

In the mid- to latter eighteen hundreds, scholars began to realize the preterist context of Revelation and
related eschatological events. Some of the preterist titles of this period include:

Moses Stuart, Commentary on the Apocalypse (1845);


J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia (1887);
F.W. Farrar, the late canon of Westminster, The Early Days of Christianity (1891);
Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (1890) and Biblical Apocalyptics (1898). Concerning the
seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 and the “latter days” Terry stated:

“The seventh trumpet, as we understand this book, is the symbolic signal of the end of the old
dispensation and the consequent beginning of the new era of the kingdom of Christ on earth
(comp. xi, 15). But the Old Testament prophets contemplated the appearance of the Messiah
and the going forth of the new word of Jehovah as occurring “in the end of the days” – that is,
the last days of the eon or dispensation under which they were living…This “end of the times”
belongs, not to the era of the new dispensation, but to the concluding days of the old…It is a
serious error, therefore, when learned exegetes persist in assuming that the phrase “the last
days,” as employed in the Scriptures, means the period of the new Christian dispensation.”
(Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, (Eaton & Mains, NY, 1898; reprinted 1999 by Wipf
and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR), p. 361)“

With the exception of Russell’s Parousia, the above titles were “partial Preterist” – the assumed that at
least some of Revelation’s imagery remained to be fulfilled. At this stage, Preterism was merely
13
academic, existing only in scholarly circles. It would be another hundred years before Preterism would
become a grass roots movement. Because at this stage Preterism existed only at academic levels, it
was destined to be eclipsed by a rebirth of chiliasm in the form of Dispensationalism.

Dispensationalism

(1800-1900s)

Dispensationalism is probably the dominate approach to eschatology today, particularly in the United
States. It usually credited as the child of John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren. Darby
believed in the future salvation and restoration of national Israel. He believed that Old Testament
promises and prophecies to Israel were not fulfilled in the church or New Testament.
Dispensationalists deny that the church replaced Israel as God’s covenant people, arguing instead that
ethnic Jews are still the object of God’s special promises. Dispensationalists believe that Jesus came to
set up an earthly kingdom over the Jews and world. However, when the Jews allegedly rejected Jesus
(but see Jno. 6:15), God’s plan was foiled, the prophetic clock of Daniel’s 70 weeks was stopped, and
the church was created instead as a type of “parenthesis” in God’s larger plan. Thus, instead of being
the culmination of God’s plan, the cross was supposedly an unforeseen contingency. Dispensationalists
believe in an “any moment” “rapture” of the church. Once the church is wafted away, the prophetic
clock of Daniel will resume ticking and the seventith week ensue. During the 70th week, national
Israel will again assume center stage, the temple be rebuilt, and the Old Testament sacrificial system
resumed. After this, Dispensationalists believe the second coming will occur and there will be a
millennial reign of Christ on earth at Jerusalem. Darby’s and the Brethren’s writings influenced
protestant ministers in America, including D. L. Moody, James Brookes, J. R. Graves, A. J. Gordon,
and C. I. Scofield.

Dispensationalism gained grass roots enthusiasm where preterism of the 1800s failed largely through
the Bible Conference and Bible Institute movements. Beginning in the 1870s, various Bible
conferences sprang up around the U.S. These conferences were not started to promote
Dispensationalism, but proponents of this new theology promoted their program at the conferences. In
time, conferences like the American Bible and Prophetic Conferences (1878—1914) would actively
promote Dispensationalism. In the late 1800s, several Bible institutes were founded that taught
Dispensational theology. These included The Nyack Bible Institute (1882), The Boston Missionary
Training School (1889), and The Moody Bible Institute (1889), the Bible Institute of Los Angeles
(1907), and the Philadelphia College of the Bible (1914). However, Dispensationalism received it
greatest promotion by Cyrus Scofield. The publication of Scofield’s Reference Bible by Oxford
University Press in 1909 was a wind-fall for advocates of Dispensationalism. The Scofield Reference
Bible became the leading Bible used by American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists for the next sixty
years. Finally, following WWI, many dispensational Bible colleges were formed. Foremost of these
was Dallas Theological Seminary (1924). Dispensationalism thus began to be taught in an academic
setting, influencing generations of college students.

The basic suppositions of Dispensationalism are heretical in that they deny that the cross and church
represent the culmination of God’s soteriological purpose in Christ, insisting instead that God’s
program is somehow still centered in ethnic Jews. Logically, if the Jews had not rejected Christ and he
had established his earthly kingdom at that time, the cross would not have occurred and there would be
no salvation of the human race. Dispensationalism’s teaching that there is to be a resumption of the
temple service also denies the cross of Christ and represents a reversion to the types and shadows of
the Law. Yet, it was their very adherence to the temple and its service that marked out the Jews as the
enemies of Christ in seeking to perpetuate a system founded in denial and unbelief: “He that killeth an
ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an
14
oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol.” (Isa. 66:3)
As long as the temple service on earth endured, it stood in denial of Christ’s priesthood in heaven.
Return to the temple service is nothing less than apostasy from Christ. “For if I rebuild again the
things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” (Gal. 2:18; cf. Heb. 10:26-29; 13:8-10) Far
from coming to establish an earthly kingdom and re-institute the temple service, Christ’s second
coming was to destroy these types which stood in denial of his Sonship, substitutionary death, and
atoning blood: “A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that
rendereth recompence to his enemies.” (Isa. 66:6; cf. Matt. 24:3, 34; Acts 6:13; Heb. 9:26-28; 10:37;
12: 27, 28)

Dispensationalists have been taking a beating in recent years from debaters of the Preterist camp, and
today they will no longer accept challenges to debate. Let us hope this is a sign that the sun is
beginning to set on his dangerous doctrine.

Modern Preterism’s Beginnings: the Churches of Christ

(Early to Mid 1900s)

The Preterist movement today originated largely in the churches of Christ. The Churches of Christ
have their origin in the American Restoration Movement of the early 1800s. The movement placed a
strong emphasis in departing from traditional forms of worship and organization, and man-made creeds
and dogmas, in favor of returning to the Bible as the all sufficient rule of faith and practice. “Christ
our only creed, the gospel our only plea, the Bible our only rule of faith and practice” was one of the
movement’s leading slogans. Because it was a movement whose emphasis was on doctrinal reform,
the Church of Christ placed unusually strong emphasis on personal Bible study and an unmatched
command of the scripture in members and leaders alike. Emphasis on the need for doctrinal
correctness and the movement’s traditional abhorrence of creeds created an environment conducive to
recovering New Testament Preterism.

Foy E. Wallace Jr., the Father of Modern Preterism?

If there is a single individual that can be credited as the father of modern Preterism it is the Church of
Christ preacher, evangelist, author and editor, Foy E. Wallace Jr. Wallace was a leading figure in the
Churches of Christ coming out of the 1930s. A superb speaker, able debater, and writer, he quickly
rose to national prominence in the Churches of Christ, holding numerous meetings across the U.S. each
year. Wallace also served as editor of the Gospel Advocate (Nashville), a leading monthly publication
within the Churches of Christ. In his role as editor, writer, and preacher, Wallace would help define
the issues and establish the norms that would shape the church for the next fifty years.

One of Wallace’s contributions toward the modern Preterist movement was his attack upon
Dispensationalism (Premillennialism). Premillennialism threatened to enter the Churches of Christ in
the early twentieth century through Robert H. Boll, a prominent preacher, who also served as editor of
the Gospel Advocate. Boll became enamored with the Premillennialism of Charles Taze Russell,
founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and began writing Premillennialist articles for the Gospel
Advocate (circa 1910). Boll was forced to resign, but continued to teach and disseminate
Premillennialist doctrine within the church, gaining a following.

The Premillennial movement within the churches of Christ was destroyed primarily by Foy Wallace
Jr. during his four year (1930-1934) tenure as editor of the Gospel Advocate and in two debates with
Charles Neal. The first Wallace-Neal debate was held in Winchester, KY., Jan. 2-6, 1933, and was

15
later published in book form. Neal affirmed "The Bible clearly teaches that after the second coming of
Christ and before the final resurrection and judgment, there will be an age or dispensation of one
thousand years during which Christ will reign on the earth." Wallace also started a publication entitled
the Bible Banner to refute Premillennnial doctrine and would publish God’s Prophetic Word (1946,
revised 1960), a volume of several hundred pages, which today remains one of the most thorough
treatments exposing Premillennial errors. Central to Wallace's refutation of Premillennialism was
proof of the restoration of the Davidic throne and kingdom in Christ beginning with his ascension.

The other side of Wallace’s contribution to the modern Preterist movement was his commentary on
Revelation, published in 1966. Wallace devoted forty-five pages to defending the early date for
composition of Revelation, and demonstrated throughout that Revelation’s major theme was the
destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Although Wallace’s commentary was merely partial Preterist,
seeing in Revelation twenty’s millennia imagery extending beyond the first century and into the
indefinite future, it remains a favorite in Preterist circles today.

Wallace’s efforts to establish the historical, first century context of Revelation and the fulfilled nature
of the Davidic kingdom and throne in Christ’s church paved the way for later generations in the
Church of Christ to arrive at the full Preterist position.

Preterism Reaches the Grass Roots

(Mid to later 1900s)

One of the earliest advocates of fulfilled eschatology was Max R. King, a preacher from Warren,
Ohio. King published a book entitled The Spirit of Prophecy (1971), in which he argued that Christ’s
second coming occurred in A.D. 70. King’s book drew fire and a debate was held between King and
Jim McGuiggan (1975), a prominent writer and preacher in the churches of Christ. King soundly
defeated McGuiggan. The debate was later published as the McGuiggan/King Debate (1975). King’s
able defense established that there was more to Preterism than met the eye and required closer looking
at. Subsequent attacks upon “Kingism” in brotherhood papers and periodicals only served to give the
movement publicity and win more to its side.

Other Church of Christ preachers whose studies independently led them to the full Preterist position
and who would join forces with King included Jack Scott (Pinole, CA/ Kalispell, MT), Don Preston
(Ardmore, OK), and William Bell (Memphis, TN). Together these, with Ed Stevens (Bradford, PA)
and John Noë (Indianapolis, IN) (more below), would become the leading edge of the Preterist
movement in the 1980s and 1990s, writing articles and reasoning with those that would meet them in
public debate. King has since lost significant influence in the movement due to peculiar beliefs about
the nature of the eschatological resurrection (the “corporate body” view). According to King, all New
Testament passages about the resurrection have their primary application to the spiritual resurrection of
Christ’s mystic body from Judaism’s “sin-death;” the individual’s personal resurrection from hades is
only secondarily alluded to, if at all. Although embraced by many in the early days of the movement,
most preterists have moved away from King on this position. Few today see reference to the
resurrection of a corporate body anywhere in the New Testament, it being the general consensus that
the eschatological resurrection spoke to the resurrection of the soul from hades; Christians dying today
go straight to heaven. King’s son, Tim, is presently at the head of Presence Ministries, an organization
King founded to promote preterism, but has taken it in a direction that has further alienated it from
mainstream preterism.

Ed Stevens espoused partial Preterism while at Texas Tech in 1972 through Foy E. Wallace Jr.’s
commentary on Revelation, and was well on his way to full Preterism in the mid ‘70s while studying at
16
Sunset School of Preaching in Lubbock, Texas, a Church of Christ institution, where he met King and
obtained a copy of his book The Spirit of Prophecy. King was then engaged in the written debate with
McGuiggan, who was an instructor at Sunset. Few have advanced the cause of Preterism like Stevens.
Versed in computers and HTML when the industry was still young, Stevens established an early
presence for Preterism on the internet. Stevens would go on to leave the Church of Christ, joining the
Reformed Church, carrying the message there, and wining many to the cause. His International
Preterist Association continues to be a leading voice in Preterism today.

Don Preston came into the movement in the early nineties and is perhaps the most studied and able
voice in Preterism today. Don is testimony to what one man can do with the support of a congregation
behind him. His position as preacher at the Ardmore Church of Christ, where he has served for 15
years, has enabled him to devote much time and effort to the cause. Don has published numerous
articles, books, and tracts, and met many big names in debate, including Tommy Ice, F. LaGard Smith,
and James Jordan.

Other Church of Christ ministers that have published Preterist works include Jesse Mills (Results of
Fulfilled Prophecy, 2001, Commentary on Daniel, 2003; Commentary on Revelation, 2004); Gene
Fadely (Revelations, Kingdoms in Conflict, 1995; Hebrews, Covenants in Contrast,1996; Prophecy:
Year 2000 and Beyond, 1998); Tom and Steve Kloske (The Second Coming: Mission Accomplished,
2003), and Kurt Simmons (The Consummation of the Ages, 2003).

Non-Church of Christ names that have risen to the top of the movement include John Noë and John
Anderson. Noë has been active in the movement since the early nineties. Noë is the first full Preterist
to be awarded a PhD (2003). Noë’s published works include The Apocalypse Conspiracy (1991),
Beyond the End Times (1999), Shattering the Left Behind Delusion (2000), and Dead in their Tracks
(2001). Noë has also recently had a Preterist article - An Exegetical Basis for a Preterist-Idealist
Understanding of the Book of Revelation - accepted and awaiting publication in JETS (Journal of the
Evangelical Theological Society), which he has been a member of for many years. John Anderson has
hosted a weekly radio broadcast since Feb. 2001, which has carried the message of Preterism to untold
thousands across the U.S. and around the world. John joined Don Preston in debating Tommy Ice and
Mark Hitchock (2003), and has hosted a conference in Sparta, NC, since 2001, featuring many leaders
from within the movement.

Today, Preterism has leaped over all denominational boundaries and claims champions and adherents
from every major church in Christendom.

The Attack upon Preterism

(Early Twenty-first Century)

Beginning in the late eighties, Preterism received an enormous boost from some of whom would later
be among its most vitriolic opponents. In 1983, R. C. Sproul Sr., a leading voice in the Reformed
Church, wrote the foreword to a republication of J. Stuart Russell’s The Parousia. Russell’s book,
written in the late 1800s, took a full preterist position regarding the second coming, arguing that Christ
returned in the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Although Sproul
stopped short of giving full endorsement to Russell’s conclusions, the republication of The Parousia
by Baker Books, a leading publishing house, with Spoul’s name appended, gave Preterism an
enormous boost, taking it from the fringe and thrusting it into mainstream Christendom. Baker Books
would later publish Sproul’s The Last Day’s According to Jesus (1998), in which Sproul made the case
that most New Testament passages traditionally understood to speak to the end of the world actually
spoke to the destruction of Jerusalem. In his book, Sproul mentioned by name several advocates of
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full Preterism, including Ed Stevens and Max King, giving further credit and exposure to the
movement. Sproul also discussed, but did not decide, various views about the resurrection, leaving, or
appearing to leave open the distinct possibility that the full Preterist position was viable.

In 1989, Kenneth Gentry Jr. published Before Jerusalem Fell. Gentry’s book argued from both
external evidence of patristic writers and internal evidence from the text itself that Revelation was
written before, and is about, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Gentry’s book has since
undergone several reprints and has contributed significantly to the cause of Preterism. Other works of
Gentry include his contribution to a commentary on Revelation (Four Views of Revelation), Perilous
Times (1999) and The Beast of Revelation, each of which argues a first century context for many
eschatological passages.

Unwilling or unable to go the whole way to full Preterism, still clinging to the empty promise of
Postmillennialism, Gentry has written numerous articles bitterly declaiming against Preterism and
Preterists. Sproul Jr., whose father authored The Last Days According Jesus, has also shown himself
to be of the same ilk by becoming also outspoken enemy of Preterism. Both men contributed to a book
edited by Keith Mathison entitled When Shall These Things Be, A Reformed Response to Hyper-
Preterism (2005) - a surprisingly weak, but bitter attack on full Preterists, particularly Ed Stevens.
This book has created a chilling effect upon many who were looking at full Preterism, but a response is
in the offing, featuring the contributions of many leaders in the movement (including the present
writer), and is due to be published by Ed Steven’s International Preterist Association in November of
2006. We predict that this attack on full Preterism will backfire when readers see how contributors
respond to the objections put forward in Mathison’s book. The result will be a wind-fall for truth! As
has so often been true in the past, the more the truth is attacked, the more it prospers and grows.

Conclusion

The original Preterism of Christ and the apostles never perished. Although other schools of
interpretation have come and gone, Preterism has always remained. Its reemergence as a grass roots
movement in the Churches of Christ in the mid-twentieth century was the result of the ministry of Foy
E. Wallace Jr. a generation before, and its members unflinching zeal for the truth. By letting the Bible
speak to readers directly (sola scriptura), rather than through the voice of antiquated creeds and
confessions whose utility has long since vanished, the original Preterism of the New Testament was
recovered. Today, the truth, long hemmed in by ecclesiastical authorities and tradition, has broken out
and promises to sweep the field. Let the enemies of Preterism be ware!

Kurt Simmons has served as a minister in the Church of Christ and is president of the Bimillennial Preterist Association;
he is author of The Consummation of the Ages, the first and only full length commentary on Revelation from a Preterist
perspective. www.preteristcentral.com

Notes:

[1]
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, xxxvi, 1, 2; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 567.

[2]
Tertullian, Against Marcion, III, xxv; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 342.

[3]
Lactantius, Divine Institutes, XXIV; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 219.

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[4]
Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica, VIII, ccclxxv; Ferrar ed.

[5]
St. John Chrysostom, Homily LXXIV)

[6]
Origen, Contra Celsus, II, xiii; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 437

[7]
John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1966, Moody Press), pp. 126, 176, 178, 189, 197,199.

[8]
Commodianus, Instructions, XLI; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 211. Cf. Hippolytus, Treatise on the Antichrist, 44-46; Ante-
Nicene Fathers, Vol. V, p. 213; Lactantius, Divine Institutes, VII, xvii; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 214; Victorinus, Commentary
on the Apocalypse, ad Rev. 7:2; 12:6, 7-9; 14; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 356. See also, Augustine, City of God, XX , xxix,
where the writer devotes a whole chapter to the future coming of Elijah, without once understanding that Malachi wrote of John the
Baptist.

[9]
Sulpicius Severus, Sacred History, II, xxviii-xxix; emphasis added. Lactantius (A.D. 260-330) makes remarks about Nero commonly
interpreted in reference to Revelation’s beast. See Of the Manner in which the Persecutors Died, Chpt. II; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII,
p. 302.

[10]
Sulpicius Severus, Sacred History, II, xxviii-xxix; emphasis added. Lactantius (A.D. 260-330) makes remarks about Nero commonly
interpreted in reference to Revelation’s beast. See Of the Manner in which the Persecutors Died, Chpt. II; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII,
p. 302.

[11]
Tertullian, Concerning the Resurrection of the Flesh, XXIV; cf. Apology, XXXII.

[12]
Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, ad 11:7; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 354; emphasis added.

[13]
Victorinus’ commentary is semi-preterist throughout: Jerusalem and the temple still exist; Nero is the beast; his death is indicated by
beast receiving a wound to the head; the seven heads point to Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, and Nerva

Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, ad 11:8; 13:13; 17:10, 11, 16; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, pp.355, 357, 358.

[14]
Augustine, City of God, XX, xix; cf., Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, xxv-xxviii; Lactanius, Divine Inst. VII, xxv; emphasis added.

[15]
Origen, De Principiis, IV, vi; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 353.

[16]
Origen, Contra Celsus, IV, xii, xiii; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, pp.501, 502.

[17]
Origen, Contra Celsum, IV, xxi-xxii; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 505, 506.

[18]
Lactantius, Divine Institutes, XXIV; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 219.

[19]
Article XVII: Of Christ's Return to Judgment. They [the scriptures] condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish
opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being
everywhere suppressed.

[20]
See generally, R.H. Charles, The Revelation of St. John, International Critical Commentary (1920, Edinburgh), p. clxxxiv.

[21]
Ex. 21:33, 36.

[22]
Isa. 1:3

[23]
Clement of Alexandria, The Stomata, V, viii; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, p. 457.

[24]
Augustine, City of God, XX, viii; Loeb ed.

[25]
Plato, Republic, Bk. X, 315-320; Virgil, Aeneid, Bk. VI, 734-769; cf. Justin Martyr, 1st Apology, VIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 165.

[26]
This, of course, means that there are two millennia that are not coterminus. Augustine recognized the problem inherent in the single
millennium model, but could not solve it. “This last persecution by Antichrist will last for three years and six months, as we have already
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said, and as is stated both in the Apocalypse and by the prophet Daniel. Though this time is brief, it is rightly debated whether it belongs
to the thousand years during which it is said that the devil is bound and the saints reign with Christ, or whether this short span is to be
added to those years and is over and above them. For if we say that it belongs to the thousand years, then it will be found that the reign
of the saints with Christ extends not for the same length of time as the binding of the devil, but for a longer time…How, then does
Scripture include in the same limit of a thousand years both the binding of the devil and the reign of the saints, if the binding of the devil
is to cease three years and six months before the reign of a thousand years of the saints with Christ? Augustine, The City of God, XX, xiii;
Loeb ed.

[27]
1) Egyptians, 2) Midianites, 3) other nations during period of the judges, 4) Assyrians, 5) Chaldeans, 6) Medes and Persians, 7) Greeks
under Antiochus.

[28]
1) Egyptians, 2) Midianites, 3) other nations during period of the judges, 4) Assyrians, 5) Chaldeans, 6) Medes and Persians, 7) Greeks
under Antiochus.

[29]
Exposition on the Apocalypse, ibid pp. 136, 137.

[30]
S. Bonaventurae Opera Omnia, 5:405-6, 408; ibid. p 200. Franciscan commentaries on Revelation included Peter Olivi’s Lectura and
Ubertino of Casale’s The Tree of Life of the Crucified Jesus, both of which are nothing if not a complete “Franciscanization” of
Revelation.

[31]
(Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, ad 7:2; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 352.)

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